By The Spotter
When Wallaby centre Stirling Mortlock intercepted a Carlos Spencer cut-out pass and raced away to score in the 2003 Rugby World Cup semi-final in Sydney, it was the first turn down a road that now sees the international game in this country purring along with the All Blacks blackmobile in the fast lane, while the domestic game splutters along like a rusty old dunga on the hard shoulder of the Rugby highway. More on that soon…
If the bush telegraph is in fact correct and Steve Tew abdicates from his CEO role sooner rather than later, he will have presided over an era which began inauspiciously with the fallout from THAT 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France and the subsequent howls of blue murder from a mass of indignant supporters after the re-appointment of Graham Henry.
Look now though and the international environment for the All Blacks has transformed from dystopian to utopian; the glow from the absolute dominance of the Men in Black in recent seasons and the healthy financial state (boosted by two enormous deals with Adidas and AIG) which allows the NZRU to have enough in the kitty to keep our best remaining in New Zealand for a shot at All Blackdom, leaves zero doubt that Tew has been an exceptional negotiator on behalf of our world-famous national team over his time in charge. And possibly his most significant achievement: Turning around an almost insolvent NZRU from a record loss of $15.9 million in 2009 to a return to the black side of the ledger in 2013. (More on the current financial state of the NZRU):
Anyone would surely venture that things have never looked better for the All Blacks since Rugby went fully professional twenty years ago. All Blacks-only Rugby followers, (those who watch a game of Rugby only when the All Blacks are involved, and there are tens, quite possibly hundreds of thousands- including a vast percentage of migrants- I know this to be true because of my line of work), would no doubt laud Steve Tew and all his team for laying the financial foundation as a base for the recent outstanding successes of our boys, and no doubt stacks of real Rugby-ites would too, and with extremely good reason it must be said. This is all well and good, however it feels in some ways that Tew is in fact the CEO of an organisation called ‘All Blacks Juggernaut Inc’, as opposed to the Rugby Union of New Zealand, which has a mandate to also properly foster domestic Rugby. But has it in fact?
All of the above evidence points to an obvious shift in strategic focus from the NZRU from even before ‘Barnes-gate’ and the 2007 RWC quarter-final loss. For during 2006, after four successive All Blacks’ World Cup failures (or ‘disasters’ as most called them-more fuel to the failure fire), Graham Henry, with the full backing of the NZRU adopted the doomed ‘rest and rotation’ policy, whereby the best All Blacks were withdrawn for large chunks of the 2007 Super Rugby competition, leaving the Bulls and Sharks to fight out the final- the first time two South African teams had finished one-two in the round robin and made the final together; it is yet to happen since.
That act alone (it ingloriously backfired) stands as the initial indicator of a clear turn in the thinking of the NZRU and the All Blacks: this being that Rugby World Cups are the only barometer by which the state of Rugby Union in this country can be quantified as being successful or not. The media and general public also played their part in this eventuality by taking the failures so much to heart that in the end the Union probably felt almost compelled to adopt a World Cup or bust-type mentality. Due diligence on all other Rugby competitions on the homefront would have to go on the backburner, possibly permanently.
So while the All Blacks pile up the trophies and continue to make new friends and influence people, the downright loser in all this attention on big brother has been our National Provincial competition- once the pride and joy and flagship competition of the New Zealand winter sports season. There is absolutely no way it is now though. Listen to Radio Sport or talk to Joe Rugbyhead down the at the local and they will tell you that the Mitre 10 cup is, for all intents and purposes, close to being one big crashing irrelevant bore.
Show me another major league in the world that has cross-over games where teams are actually placed in a Premier Division and a Championship Division (and that title is puzzling-bollocks actually-in itself: ‘Championship’ implies that the winner is the overall top dog of any competition).
And do we get a proper build-up with player interviews, an awards dinner, a parade or even a well-publicised meet and greet a few days out from the Grand final of the Mitre 10 Cup between Canterbury and Tasman? No, what we got from the NZRU instead was the unveiling of the new Al Blacks jersey, where the main point was that the insignia on the jersey front had changed from silver-grey to white! No better example surely of where present priorities lie. Talk about symbolic and so totally unbalanced.
If Steve Tew really wants to be thought of as someone who made a significant difference, could he please use his great influence to insist on one NPC first division of fourteen teams, a round robin of thirteen games and two semi finals and a final, with as many All Blacks as available as possible for at least two or three rounds and a straight promotion relegation of one up-one down from the second division (The Meads Cup). The whole competition could start in early August and be over by mid-to- late October with the inclusion of a couple of midweek rounds.
To put a halt to our intelligence being insulted, if the Mitre 10 Cup/NPC must be stubbornly and completely illogically split into two separate divisions, please NZRU, at the very least stop this farcical charade of having cross-over matches. We’ve already been driven to despair with the laughable way the Super Rugby table starts looking by about Week Seven, don’t give us the double whammy of a rotten NPC as well. You really do owe it to your longest and most loyal stakeholders to fix things- your long-term diehard Rugby supporters of the towns and provinces of New Zealand.